Soon after Kenneth Roth announced in April that he planned to step down as the head of Human Rights Watch, he was contacted by Sushma Raman, the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Raman asked Roth if he would be interested in joining the center as a senior fellow. It seemed like a natural fit. In Roth’s nearly 30 years as the executive director of HRW, its budget had grown from $7 million to nearly $100 million, and its staff had gone from 60 to 550 people monitoring more than 100 countries. The “godfather” of human rights, The New York Times called him in a long, admiring overview of his career, noting that Roth “has been an unrelenting irritant to authoritarian governments, exposing human rights abuses with documented research reports that have become the group’s specialty.” HRW played a prominent role in establishing the International Criminal Court, and it helped secure the convictions of Charles Taylor of Liberia, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, and (in a tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
Roth had been involved with the Carr Center since its founding in 1999. In 2004, he participated in a debate before 300 people with Michael Ignatieff, then its director, over whether the US invasion of Iraq qualified as a humanitarian intervention (Ignatieff said it did; Roth said it didn’t). The debate was moderated by Samantha Power, one of the center’s founders.
In a video conference with Raman and Mathias Risse, the Carr Center’s faculty director, Roth said he was indeed interested in becoming a fellow; he planned to write a book about his experience at HRW and how a relatively small group of people can move governments, and he could draw on the center’s research facilities. On May 7, Raman sent him a formal proposal, and on June 9, Roth agreed in principle to join the center. Raman sent the proposal to the office of Dean Douglas Elmendorf for approval in what was assumed to be a formality. On July 12, Roth had a video conversation with Elmendorf (a former senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers and a director of the Congressional Budget Office) to introduce himself and answer any questions he might have.
Two weeks later, however, Elmendorf informed the Carr Center that Roth’s fellowship would not be approved.
The center was stunned. “We thought he would be a terrific fellow,” says Kathryn Sikkink, the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School. A leading academic in the field, Sikkink has been affiliated with the Carr Center for nine years, and during that time nothing like this had ever happened. As she noted, the center has hosted other prominent human rights advocates, including William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA from 1994 to 2006, and Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International from 2010 to 2018.
Sikkink was even more surprised by the dean’s explanation: Israel. Human Rights Watch, she was told, has an “anti-Israel bias”; Roth’s tweets on Israel were of particular concern. Sikkink was taken aback. In her own research, she had used HRW’s reports “all the time,” and while the organization had indeed been critical of Israel, it had also been critical of China, Saudi Arabia—even the United States.
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Sikkink included that point in a detailed e-mail she prepared for the dean seeking to rebut the charge of anti-Israel bias. She drew on the Political Terror Scale, a yearly measure of state repression compiled by a team based at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. It ranks countries on a 1-to-5 scale of least to most repressive, based on the incidence of political imprisonment, summary executions, torture, and the like. The team codes each country’s record based on the annual human rights reports of the US State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Every year, Israel and the Occupied Territories scored a 3 or 4, putting it in a class with Angola, Colombia, Turkey, and Zimbabwe—a “very bad record,” Sikkink says. She further compared HRW’s assessment to that of both Amnesty and the State Department and found the three to be “pretty similar.” In short, Sikkink says, the data showed that “Human Rights Watch does not have a bias at all against Israel” and that to conclude otherwise “is misinformation.” She sent her findings to Elmendorf; the dean answered that he had read her e-mail but would not reconsider his decision.
To understand the context of that decision, Sikkink referred me to an article by Peter Beinart that appeared in The New York Times on August 26 under the headline “Has the Fight Against Antisemitism Lost Its Way?” “Over the past 18 months,” Beinart wrote, “America’s most prominent Jewish organizations have done something extraordinary. They have accused the world’s leading human rights organizations of promoting hatred of Jews.” After HRW issued an April 2021 report accusing Israel of practicing a policy of apartheid toward the Palestinians, Beinart noted, the American Jewish Committee claimed that its charges “sometimes border on antisemitism.” And after Amnesty International, in February 2022, issued its own report charging Israel with apartheid, the Anti-Defamation League predicted that it “likely will lead to intensified antisemitism.” In addition, the AJC and ADL joined four other prominent Jewish groups in issuing a statement claiming that Amnesty’s report was not just biased and inaccurate but also “fuels those antisemites around the world who seek to undermine the only Jewish country on Earth.” It was, Beinart concluded, a “terrible irony” that “the campaign against ‘antisemitism’” was being used by these groups as “a weapon against the world’s most respected human rights organizations.”
The charge that Human Rights Watch is hostile to Israel is hardly new. In 2009, Robert Bernstein, the former head of Random House, who founded HRW and served as its chair from 1978 to 1998, sharply criticized it in a Times opinion piece. HRW’s original mission, he wrote, was “to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters,” but it had instead “been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.” The Middle East “is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records,” yet HRW “has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.” (Rejecting Bernstein’s claim, HRW observed that since 2000 it had produced more than 1,700 reports and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa, the vast majority of which were about countries other than Israel.)
HRW has also been regularly attacked by Gerald Steinberg, an emeritus professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and the president of NGO Monitor. Despite its neutral-sounding name, NGO Monitor, since its founding in 2001, has almost exclusively tracked nongovernmental organizations that are critical of Israel, HRW chief among them. It has accused the organization of “playing a leading role in the demonization of Israel,” of pushing an “anti-Israel agenda” that contributes to hatred of that country, and of hiding its political bias behind “the rhetoric of human rights.” “Ken Roth’s Immoral Anti-Israel Obsession and the Gaza War” ran the headline atop a September 2014 report. For more than a decade, it stated, Roth had made “numerous false factual claims” about Israel and routinely distorted international law “to promote his personal and ideological objectives.” As evidence, it offered a catalog of more than 400 tweets. (Example: “Israel’s vaunted precision attacks when targeting civilian structures like family homes are just plain war crimes.”)
Steinberg and other defenders of Israel were especially aggrieved by HRW’s 2021 report accusing Israel of apartheid. In 217 pages of detailed documentation and legal analysis, the report sought to demonstrate that the Israeli authorities had met the legal definition of the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution (the severe deprivation of fundamental rights on racial, ethnic, or other grounds) by pursuing policies in both Israel and the Occupied Territories that “methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians.” Those policies included facilitating the transfer of Jewish Israelis to the Occupied Territories and granting them rights superior to those of Palestinians living there; the widespread confiscation of privately held land in much of the West Bank; and the building of the separation barrier “in a way that accommodated anticipated growth of settlements”—all dispelling the notion “that Israeli authorities consider the occupation temporary.”
Steinberg pounced in The Jerusalem Post. Though HRW claimed its report was based on new material, he wrote, “a quick read reveals the same mix of shrill propaganda, false allegations, and legal distortions marketed by the NGO network for decades.” In contrast to the systematic cruelty of South Africa’s apartheid regime, Israel’s non-Jewish citizens “have full rights, including voting for Knesset representatives.” Steinberg denounced the report’s author, Omar Shakir, citing his previous work as “a campus activist” agitating against Israeli apartheid, and attacked Roth for leading a “20-year campaign” invoking the “Israel apartheid” theme.
Roth rejects such claims. Most people knowledgeable about Israel, he says, understand that NGO Monitor “is a profoundly biased source” that “has never found a criticism of Israel’s human rights record to be valid.” Roth thinks that Steinberg was “particularly incensed that I dared to criticize Israel even though I am Jewish and was drawn to the human rights cause by my father’s experience living in Nazi Germany.” His father escaped to New York in 1938 when he was 12, and Roth grew up hearing many “Hitler stories.”
In his recurring broadsides against HRW, Steinberg almost never mentions the organization’s frequent reports and statements about abuses and crimes committed by the Palestinian authorities. In a 2018 report titled “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent,” for instance, HRW asserted that “in the 25 years since Palestinians gained a degree of self-rule over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, their authorities have established machineries of repression to crush dissent, including through the use of torture.” Based on a two-year investigation that included interviews with 147 ex-detainees and family members and their lawyers, among others, the report listed 86 cases that together showed that “Palestinian authorities routinely arrest people whose peaceful speech displeases them and torture those in their custody.” The arrests “constitute serious violations of international human rights law,” and the torture “may amount to a crime against humanity, given its systematic practice over many years.” The report’s author was Omar Shakir.
In short, under Roth, Human Rights Watch held the Palestinian authorities to the same standard that it applied to Israel and many other governments. Roth made this point in his July 12 conversation with Elmendorf. During it, Roth recalls, the dean said that he was going to start vetting fellowships more closely and asked Roth whether he had any enemies. “That’s what I do,” Roth told him. “I make enemies.”
The list is indeed long. In 2014, Roth was denied entry to Cairo after arriving to release a report implicating senior Egyptian officials in the systematic killing of protesters. In 2020, he was turned away at Hong Kong’s airport after arriving to release HRW’s annual report, the lead essay of which, written by Roth, criticized China’s human rights record. He was denounced by Saudi Arabia over HRW’s demands for accountability in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi; blocked on Twitter by Rwanda’s Paul Kagame for HRW’s reports on atrocities and repression by his government; and placed on the list of people sanctioned by Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
“But I knew what he was driving at,” Roth says of his exchange with Elmendorf. “It’s always Israel.”
In response to a request for comment, James F. Smith, a Kennedy School spokesman, wrote, “We have internal procedures in place to consider fellowships and other appointments, and we do not discuss our deliberations about individuals who may be under consideration.” To this day, Elmendorf has given no indication of who may have objected to Roth’s presence at the school.
Oneprecedent offers a clue, however. On September 13, 2017, the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics announced that Chelsea Manning would be among its visiting fellows that fall. Manning had been released from prison in May after serving seven years for violating the Espionage Act and for other offenses arising from her leak of hundreds of thousands of classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Michael Morell, who spent 33 years at the CIA, including three-plus years as its deputy director, and who at the time was a nonresident senior fellow at the Kennedy School, was outraged, and the next day he sent Dean Elmendorf a letter announcing his resignation. “Unfortunately, I cannot be part of an organization—The Kennedy School—that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information,” he wrote. (According to Kathryn Sikkink, during his four years at the school, Morell defended on several occasions the Bush administration’s use of torture, insisting that practices like waterboarding did not qualify as such.)
Later that day, CIA director Mike Pompeo informed the university that he supported Morell’s decision and was canceling a scheduled appearance that evening at the Kennedy School. Early the next day, Elmendorf announced that the school was withdrawing the invitation to Manning “and the perceived honor that it implies to some people.” Two other controversial figures that the Institute of Politics had also invited to become fellows—former Trump officials Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski—faced no such sanction. An online petition organized by a group of Harvard graduates that criticized Elmendorf’s decision attracted more than 15,000 signatures. “By caving in to pressure from present and former top officials of the CIA,” it stated, “you have jettisoned academic freedom.”
For all the differences between Chelsea Manning and Kenneth Roth—the former a leaker and whistleblower convicted of having violated the Espionage Act, the latter a leading human rights advocate—they suffered similar fates, and together they suggest a fundamental reality about the Kennedy School: the dominant presence of the US national security community and its close ally Israel.
The Kennedy School is one of the world’s premier schools of government and public policy. It offers everything from doctorates and master’s degrees in public policy and administration to one-week executive training sessions that cost $10,250 and allow participants to put Harvard on their résumés. It is not a single cohesive institution but rather a conglomeration of fiefdoms and bailiwicks that deal with everything from conflict resolution, nuclear proliferation, and climate change to urban policy, financial regulation, and voter mobilization. Among the largest of these are the Center for Public Leadership, which seeks to create “a more equitable and just world” and includes a “leadership and happiness laboratory” (led by Arthur Brooks, a former president of the American Enterprise Institute who has written such books as Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism); the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, which brings together “thought leaders” from the public and private sectors to create an “incubator of ideas” to “inform policy-based options and solutions” (under the direction of former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers); and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, which annually brings journalists and academics from around the country to describe and diagnose the challenges facing the news industry. Each of these bodies has its own fellows who serve with the approval of the dean, who presides over the school as a whole.
The Carr Center, with an eight-person staff and 32 fellows, is among the smallest and poorest of the school’s subdivisions. Its survival from year to year is precarious, as its mission of promoting human rights and exposing government abuses often sits uncomfortably with the institutes that deal with defense policy, military strategy, and intelligence gathering.
Foremost among those institutes is the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and a look at its activities can help explain why Roth was deemed too hot to handle. Ranked the best university-affiliated think tank in the world by the University of Pennsylvania’s 2018 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report, the center has 56 staff members, 12 fellowship programs, and more than 225 experts—nearly 100 of them in international security and defense. From 1995 to 2017, the center’s director was Graham Allison. A professor of government at Harvard and the author of a shelfful of books about national security, including Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971), Allison is considered the founding dean of the Kennedy School and the person who built it financially from scratch. (He also helped create the Carr Center.)
Allison, who remains a strong presence at the school, has served on the boards of Natixis, Loomis Sayles, and the Hansberger Group (all engaged in investment and wealth management); Taubman Centers (mall developers); Chase Bank; Chemical Bank; the International Energy Corporation; and Getty Oil. He also served on the Defense Policy Board under every secretary of defense from Caspar Weinberger to John Mattis; was a special adviser to the secretary of defense from 1985 to 1987; and was assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans from 1993 to 1994. Reflecting his résumé, Allison helped make the Belfer Center a virtual arm of the military-intelligence complex.
Ash Carter, the outgoing secretary of defense in the Obama administration, directed the center from 2017 until his sudden death this past October. During his 35-year career, Carter was a member of the Draper Laboratory and served on the boards of the MITRE Corporation, Mitretek Systems, and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory—all defense contractors and weapons researchers involved in such matters as cybersecurity, counterterrorism, drone warfare, and missile technology. Carter’s replacement, Eric Rosenbach, served as the Pentagon’s chief of staff from 2015 to 2017 and as assistant secretary of defense for global security. Before that he was an Army intelligence officer and the commander of a telecommunications intelligence unit. According to his web page, Rosenbach worked on two contracts for the CIA (no specifics given) in 2020 and 2021.
One of the Belfer Center’s highest-profile initiatives is the Intelligence Project, which (according to its website) “links intelligence agencies with Belfer researchers, Faculty, and Kennedy School students, to enrich their education and impact public policy.” It is led by Paul Kolbe, who spent 25 years in the CIA’s directorate of operations in both foreign and domestic roles. Among its 52 senior fellows is James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence from 2010 to 2017.
Every year, the project hosts more than a dozen “rising intelligence stars” from around the world as part of a fellowship program conceived by David Petraeus, the retired four-star Army general who served as CIA director from September 2011 to November 2012. As CIA director, Petraeus wanted to find a way to connect young intelligence officers with top universities. For support, he approached Thomas Kaplan, a superrich metals speculator, art collector, and foreign policy adventurer, and persuaded him to fund a fellowship for clandestine intelligence officers. Together, they reached out to their friend Graham Allison, who promptly offered to house it at the Belfer Center.
In its first year, the program hosted two clandestine officers. It has since been recast, expanded, and renamed the Recanati-Kaplan Fellowships; this year, it is hosting 16 fellows from nine countries and 13 intelligence agencies. Leon Recanati is Kaplan’s father-in-law and an Israeli investor. Kaplan (along with Sheldon and Miriam Adelson) provided most of the initial funding for United Against Nuclear Iran, which was created in 2008 to combat the perceived threat from that country; the group (which has strong ties to the US and Israeli militaries) led the campaign to undo the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. Graham Allison sits on UANI’s board and has lobbied on its behalf in Washington.
Petraeus was forced to resign as head of the CIA after it was disclosed that he was having an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, who was writing a biography of him, and had given her access to top-secret documents (about which he later lied to the FBI). In March 2015, Petraeus reached a plea deal with the Justice Department in which he was sentenced to two years’ probation plus a $100,000 fine. After Petraeus’s resignation, Allison arranged for him to become a nonresident fellow at the Belfer Center. There he held court, “with fellows and students lining up to see him,” as Daniel Golden relates in his 2017 book Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities.
Golden devotes a chapter of the book to the Kennedy School. Once known “as the refuge of out-of-office politicians,” he observes, the school “now swarms with former intelligence brass.” Golden writes that the school discourages the CIA from active recruiting on campus, but a look at the Belfer Center’s calendar shows that such recruiting in fact now takes place openly. On October 25, for instance, the center hosted a session on “Careers in the U.S. Intelligence Community,” with former and current intelligence practitioners sharing their experiences with Harvard students.
As Golden notes, the members of foreign intelligence services also flock to the Kennedy School, because it offers “a conduit to the highest echelons of the U.S. government.” Israelis are prominent among them. A key pipeline is the Wexner Israel Fellowship (part of the Center for Public Leadership). It was created in the late 1980s by Leslie Wexner, the founder and former CEO of L Brands (which once owned Victoria’s Secret and is now called Bath & Body Works). A rabbi representing Wexner approached the Kennedy School with the idea of bringing Israeli officials and civic leaders to Cambridge for a year of mid-career study, and the school agreed. Among the 10 fellows who come annually are ministry officials, local government representatives, policy analysts, and directors of nonprofits, as well as members of the Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Shin Bet security service. Wexner has donated more than $40 million to the Kennedy School over the years, and in 2018 a new building there was named for him. After it was revealed in 2019 that Wexner had for decades employed Jeffrey Epstein as a personal adviser and given him sweeping powers over his finances and philanthropy, there were calls for Wexner’s name to be removed from both the building and the fellowship, but it remains on both, and the Israeli fellows are highly visible at school events.
Originally, the Kennedy School planned to have a parallel program for Palestinians, but it never materialized, and only a small fraction of Wexner fellows are Palestinian citizens of Israel. Palestinians do, however, have access to other fellowships at the school, including the Emirates Leadership Initiative Fellowship, which is funded by the United Arab Emirates—America’s strongest ally in the Gulf. (The UAE is also a close ally of Saudi Arabia and a serial violator of human rights.) In 2020, Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian diplomat and senior official with the PLO, was awarded a fellowship at the Belfer Center, but he died from Covid before he could start it. The Palestinian presence at the Kennedy School is sparse and discussion of the Israel-Palestine issue fleeting. According to people knowledgeable about the school’s programs, its administration is terrified of touching anything related to Palestine, and Palestinian voices have largely been silenced. That’s due not to any particular administrator, they say, but to “the ethos of the place” and the people who fund the Belfer Center.
Prominent among those people is Robert Belfer, who has donated more than $20 million to the Kennedy School since the 1980s—money that has come from his family’s fortune. Born in 1935 and raised in Krakow, Poland, Belfer fled the Nazis with his family in early 1941 and arrived in New York in January 1942, speaking no English. He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law but decided to join his father’s business. Arthur Belfer worked in feathers and down, selling products to the US military, including down-filled sleeping bags, but in the 1950s he branched out into foam rubber and then oil, buying an oil-producing tract in north Texas. The company he created, Belco Petroleum, did so well that Arthur eventually made the Forbes 400. In 1983, he sold Belco to InterNorth. In 1985, InterNorth merged with Houston Natural Gas, which then changed its name to Enron. Robert joined Enron’s board, and the family became the company’s largest shareholder. In 1992, a year before his death, Arthur helped Robert set up a separate entity, Belco Oil & Gas, which went public in 1996, bringing in more than $100 million.
Through his donations to the Kennedy School, Belfer got to know Graham Allison. Allison helped build the Belfer Center, and Belfer in turn arranged for Allison to join the board of Belco. (In 1999, Allison bought 39,000 shares of Belco stock; in 2000, the company announced two stock buybacks, which nearly doubled its stock price. A request to Allison for comment went unanswered.)
After a dizzying rise that saw Enron’s stock hit $90 a share in the summer of 2000, the company imploded in 2001 amid revelations of fraudulent accounting and insider trading. By the time it declared bankruptcy in December 2001, its shares were trading for pennies, and the Belfers’ stake—almost $2 billion a year earlier—had virtually vanished. As a board member who stood by while the company collapsed, Robert Belfer faced the wrath of thousands of shareholders whose investments were wiped out. But the Belfers retained sizable holdings in real estate as well as control of Belco Oil, and in August 2001 that company merged with Westport Resources in a transaction valued at around $866 million.
So despite Enron’s collapse, Robert Belfer remained very rich—and philanthropic. In addition to the Kennedy School, he and his wife, Renée, have given to an array of cultural institutions, medical research centers, private schools, universities, and Jewish and Israeli institutions. In a 2006 interview with the US Holocaust Museum, Belfer observed that most of his extended family (including his paternal grandparents) perished in World War II—a loss that gave him “a sense of identity” of “being Jewish, of being very supportive of Israel.”
According to the 990 forms of his family foundation, between 2011 and 2015 Belfer gave more than $300,000 to the American Jewish Committee, on whose board of governors he sits. In 2018, he joined with the Anti-Defamation League to endow a new fellowship at the Belfer Center to study disinformation, hate speech, and toxic content online. Every year, the school hosts three ADL Belfer Fellows. In short, the primary funder of the Belfer Center has been a significant backer of two of the groups—the AJC and the ADL—that Peter Beinart cited as assailing human rights organizations because of their criticism of Israel.
Stephen Walt has been the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations for the past two decades. In 2007, when Walt and John Mearsheimer published The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy—which argued that AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups have redirected US policy away from America’s national interests—it caused an uproar at the Kennedy School, including complaints from some Wexner fellows. After a summary version appeared in the London Review of Books, the school was flooded with calls from “pro-Israel donors,” according to the New York Sun—Robert Belfer reportedly among them. Then-Dean David Ellwood asked Walt to omit Belfer’s name from his professor’s title in any publicity related to the article. Walt declined.
Belfer’s influence at the Kennedy School extends far beyond his center. He and his son Laurence sit on the Dean’s Executive Board—“a small group of business and philanthropic leaders who serve as trusted advisors to the Dean and are among the most committed financial supporters of the School,” according to its site. The board’s chair, David Rubenstein, is the cofounder and former CEO of the Carlyle Group, the private equity giant, and one of the most well-connected members of the US financial and cultural elite; among the many prestigious boards on which he sits is the Harvard Corporation, the university’s main governing body.
The 16 members of the Dean’s Executive Board also include Idan Ofer and his wife, Batia. Idan is the son of Sammy Ofer, an Israeli shipping magnate who until his death in 2011 was one of Israel’s richest men. Worth about $10 billion, Idan has come under fire in Israel for moving to London to reduce his tax bill and for a lavish lifestyle highlighted by the €5 million party that he threw on the island of Mykonos for his 10th wedding anniversary.
The Kennedy School dean cannot afford to lose the confidence of this board; nor can he afford to alienate the US national security community, with which the school has such close ties. The Carr Center itself is enmeshed in the US foreign policy establishment: Samantha Power has served on the National Security Council and as US ambassador to the United Nations, and she currently heads the US Agency for International Development.
In 2018, the Kennedy School opened a renovated campus, made possible by a capital campaign that raised more than $700 million. Anchoring it were three buildings bearing the names Ofer, Rubenstein, and Wexner. “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” Dean Elmendorf said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, adding that “our buildings are the structural framework for our lives here. Here important ideas will be born and nurtured. Generations of students will learn from world-class scholars and practitioners.”
In Elmendorf’s view, Kenneth Roth had no place among those scholars and practitioners. The school could accommodate a former CIA director who leaked classified information and a former senior CIA official who apologized for torture—but not the person who led Human Rights Watch for three decades.
“The Kennedy School lost out by not having him with us,” Kathryn Sikkink says. The Carr Center’s research “would have benefited from his perspective.” The same is true of its students, she added, many of whom “would give an eyetooth to get a job there.”
After being vetoed by Harvard, Roth accepted a visiting fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s crazy,” he says of his Kennedy School encounter. “You have this human rights center. Who is better qualified than me?” As for Doug Elmendorf, Roth adds, “He has no backbone whatsoever.”